Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail and Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach’s The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education are two sources directed towards specific audiences to discuss the main themes of justice and faith. MLK is speaking to the clergymen that had him locked away in Birmingham, Alabama to explain what justice is, his approach of nonviolent direct action, and his disappointment with both the “white modernist” and the church under the circumstances the African American people were in. On the other hand, Kolvenbach is summarizing the Jesuit ideals within American universities/colleges regarding how faith fosters the promotion of justice. Each of these pieces alludes to there being a higher possibility for justice through faith. Kolvenbach gets at this by quoting the GC 32 saying, “‘The way to faith and the way to justice are inseparable ways’”(41). His message upheld the idea that if the faculty and students in the Christian institutions commit to research and educating inside/outside of the classroom, awareness of injustices and how to take action will be learned. MLK’s letter seeking justice includes how as a “minister of the gospel,” he is hurt that the white church was not even supporting him but rather standing as some of his greatest opponents. I interpreted this portion of the letter as saying that if he had more support from his Christian brothers, the situation MLK was in would be somehow alleviated which would hopefully bring justice.
In certain instances, I even felt that Kolvenbach was answering MLK. The letter mentions how the white modernists are failing to acknowledge the circumstances that brought about the demonstrations in the South, and they are acting oblivious to how their threatening actions are making life almost un-livable for the African American population. Kolvenbach comes back by saying that human society has developed technologies and sciences to develop “more just conditions of life,” and in accordance with GC 32 he quotes, “‘We can no longer pretend that the inequalities and injustices for our world must be part of the inevitable order of things’”(32). This shows that injustices are present in this world, but they do not have to be innate. Even when the Jesuits changed “men for others” to “men and women for others,” this shows more inclusion and acceptance. Another instance of correspondence between the two writers is when MLK writes, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and Kolvenbach comes to say that educational institutions are to make “direct social work among the poor and involvement in their movements” a priority (29). He also says that it is imperative that the whole person have an awareness of societies and cultures that are apart of the real world. So while MLK is saying how injustices impact all communities, Kolvenbach is later speaking out how imperative it is for there to be awareness among campus communities about injustices.
In terms of travel, I see these pieces as traveling through the evolution of justice. This gives me a feeling of hope with how these published pieces show that there is movement towards (social) justice slowly but surely. MLK is writing on behalf of his suffering African American brothers and sisters through just language and providing completely acceptable arguments to a mind conditioned by the twenty-first century. I want to put emphasis on the feeling that Kolvenbach is responding the MLK because of how he is promoting Jesuit American institutions to carry on the formation of the “whole person” and making a strong call to action. This makes me think of the conversations between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan in Invisible Cities because they are two completely different actors with their conversations “documented” in the text, but they are listening to one another and connecting on the basis of travel. In the case of the essays in focus, MLK and Kolvenbach are from different eras but their writings act in relation to one another from the basis of faith and justice. Therefore, the evolution of justice shows movement through the readings from two different times in history.